Hard to find foster homes for teens

(Posted Oct. 19, 2018)

By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor

The staff at Madison County Children’s Services faces a challenge: finding foster homes for the growing number of teenagers in their custody and keeping up with the costs associated with that challenge.

“When kids are littler, we are far more successful in finding families willing to take them in. That’s not the case with older kids,” said Robin Bruno, Children’s Services administrator.

When the department takes a child into custody, the staff first tries to work with the parents to keep the child in the home. If that doesn’t work, they attempt to place the child with other family members or kin. When that’s not an option, the next possibility is foster care.

The department pays foster families a daily rate based on several factors, including the level of supervision, treatment, and behavior modification the child needs. The starting rate for foster care is $53.57 per day.

When foster care isn’t available or isn’t suitable for a child, Children’s Services places the child in a group home or residential facility, which can cost up to $335.37 per day.

This year, Children’s Services has seen a spike in the number of children of all ages who have needed some kind of paid placement.

“We have 28 in care. We usually average 19 or 20,” Bruno said.

Of those 28, 17 are 14 years old or older. Because there is a shortage of foster homes, especially ones willing to take in older children, many of those teens have been placed in group homes or residential facilities. The department also has difficulty finding foster homes for children of any age who have behavioral issues, mental health conditions, or developmental disabilities.

At up to six times the cost of traditional foster care, the group home and residential facility expenses are contributing to a drain on the department’s resources.

Earlier this month, Lori Dodge-Dorsey, interim director of Madison County Job & Family Services, requested and received from the county commissioners an additional $450,000 in county funds for Children’s Services for 2018. The department started the year with $400,000 in county funds.

The $450,000 is a one-time request to cover expenses for this year, said Dodge-Dorsey.

The annual county budget for Children’s Services has been $400,000 since 2006-07, when cuts were made due to the recession. The department plans to ask the county to increase that amount to $650,000 next year to bring funding back to what it was before the recession.

“We’ve been able to stretch the money but it has caught up with us,” Dodge-Dorsey said.

Bruno noted that while the Children’s Services budget has remained the same for 12 years, agencies that provide group home and residential facility care have continued to raise their rates every one to two years.

When certain criteria is met in a child’s case, the department receives reimbursements for paid placements from the federal government; if the criteria is not met, the department is responsible for the entire cost.

Children’s Services also receives money from the state government to be used for operational costs across the department, however that funding lags behind what other states provide. Dodge-Dorsey noted that Ohio ranks 50th in the nation for state investment in children’s services. The state’s rate of investment is over four times lower than the national average.

County Commissioner Mark Forrest suggested that local department leaders and elected officials apply more pressure to the state to increase its funding for children’s services and get other counties to apply that same pressure.

In the meantime, Children’s Services staff continue to spread the word of the need for more foster homes for children of all ages and needs. Madison County’s department contracts with The Buckeye Ranch for its foster care placements. To learn more, contact Brandi Bare at (614) 416-8719 or brandi.bare@buckeyeranch.org.

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